Google doing a Poor Job Working with Android Partners

July 30, 2010 - Written By Chris Yackulic

Google needs to work harder with handset and carrier partners to ensure a smoother Android upgrade schedule

By now, you know that the HTC EVO 4G on Sprint will be the first phone besides Google’s Nexus One to get the Android 2.2 upgrade. This is great news for EVO users but it still leaves DROID Incredible and DROID X users out in the cold. I think Google needs to do a better job working with its partners to ensure smoother upgrade paths.

Many like to take shots at Android because of its fragmentation issues, but I think this is mostly overblown. Sure, things look bleak for software upgrades if you’re rocking a Motorola CLIQ XT, but more than half of all Android users are on at least the 2.1 version. Most high-profile devices in the future should have at least 2.1, so developers won’t have to worry about leaving too many users behind with app compatibility.

Still, not all software upgrades have been created equal, as Android 2.2 seems like a major step up. EVO 4G users will soon get access to full Flash support, a browser that should be faster and able to handle JavaScript-heavy sites, and the overall speed of the operating system has been boosted. I have Froyo on a Nexus One in my house and the boosted performance makes it feel like a brand new device.

That’s why I want Google to have better-coordinated upgrade paths.

EVO 4G users will now undoubtedly have a better Android experience than DROID X or DROID Incredible users. One could easily blame the carrier for having tons of requirements before pushing out an over-the-air upgrade, but a Chief Technology Officer at a major U.S. operator recently told me the search giant hasn’t been as helpful as it should be.

To be fair, it’s easier for this CTO to blame an outside party than his company. Additionally, Google is used to working at Silicon Valley speeds – after massive internal testing, the search giant is used to being able to push out updates to its services and see users reap the benefits immediately. It’s not used to having to sit through multiple meetings with Verizon Wireless or wait for certification testing from T-Mobile before it can improve on its own product.

Google may not be used to this atmosphere, but it needs to suck it up and adapt. For all of its cash and might, Google hasn’t been able to revolutionize the mobile phone industry the way it wanted to – the failure of the Nexus One is a shining example of that. Having to jump through hoops with carrier and hardware partners is definitely a pain, but it’s a hassle that Google has to put up with to be successful in the mobile space.

That’s not to say the carriers should stick with business as usual because dedicated Android fans will find ways to get the latest software, even if it’s not certified. There are indications that the carriers are shifting their attitudes as well but I firmly believe it will take a large, concentrated push from someone like Google to really make this happen.

Of course, some may say this desire for faster Android upgrades is in direct conflict with my call for handset makers to step up their own custom Android user interface software. This argument has some merit because a UI layer like HTC’s Sense UI or Motorola’s MOTOBLUR means it takes longer to ensure that future versions of Android will play nice with the handset maker’s software.

Cooperation is king here, too. Deep, long-term collaboration between Google and handset makers should give companies the ability to consistently roll out the latest Android features within their own unique software updates.